My First [kind of] Serious Wine Tasting

Yancy, the man whom this blog was inspired by, hosted a wine tasting at the QFC near my apartment every Saturday. To us, the tastings were purely fun. We’d go to see Yancy, to hang out with friends and to drink some wine. If we liked a bottle, we’d buy it, but we never felt pressured and we never thought too deeply about what we were tasting (which, now, I regret). Yancy was a serious wine expert, but he was also funny and down-to-earth and always treated me like I knew what I was talking about, even when I didn’t. It made wine tasting with Yancy a completely different experience than wine tasting most other places. Usually I feel like I’m a fraud… totally faking the whole process. Now, I want to begin to really understand the intricacies of tasting wine, but at the same time to keep it real, just like Yancy always did.

Last night our friends Tanya and Marek came over for dinner and some wine tasting. I had a bottle of 2010 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir that my husband Alex got from one of Yancy’s tasting a few months ago. I’m not usually a big fan of Pinot Noir, but this is a nice (read: $26.00) bottle. Plus, Pinot Noir is supposed to go well with roast beef.

wine glass and dog

Sam wanted a taste, too.

I was not very organized when Tanya and Marek arrived, frantically looking for websites to lead us through our tasting. I poured four way-too-big-for-a-tasting (apparently that effects how easily one can swirl their wine in the glass) glasses and we got on our way.

Sight: The color of the wine (and Pinot Noir in general) is not that appealing to me. It looks like a watered-down Merlot. We pushed on despite this.

The best comment on the color of the wine came from Tanya:

“It’s a light blood color.” she said. “Perfect for Twilight fans!” added Marek “Mention that, you’ll get tons of hits.”

As we swirled our too-full glasses, we couldn’t really figure out the legs. They weren’t very prominent (which means the wine was not full-bodied) and, oddly, seemed to vary quite a bit. I need to do some more research about legs, because we couldn’t really figure out what it meant about the wine. Tanya eventually concluded, “Well, I would want these legs, they’re nice and skinny”. Done. This Pinot passed the leg test in our book. (Actually, my favorite go-to wine definition article mentioned in a previous post says this about legs, “Though it is, in fact, a pretentious allusion to viscosity, it’s really antiquated and unhelpful. It means nothing. If a wine geek says this to you, say: “Thank you!” Good examples: There’s no such thing.”1) Hmm.

wine on table

There it is.

Smell:

The smell thing was difficult. It didn’t smell like flowers or fruit which would have been the easiest to identify. We eventually decided that it was an earthy smell, like leaves but not in a bad way.

Taste:

The tasting part surprised me because, as I previously mentioned, I’m not a huge fan of Pinot Noir. It turns out I’m not a huge fan of CHEAP Pinot Noir. Now I know.

The wine was almost buttery in its smoothness. It was rich and had that thing that good wines have that I can’t explain… I’ll work on that. I think the best word to define it is “harmonious”. Wine Enthusiast Magazine says, “A harmonious wine has all of its flavors seamlessly integrated. It’s quite possible, especially in young wines, for all the components to be present in the wine in good proportion, but they stick out. They can be easily identified, but you can feel all the edges; they have not blended together. It’s a sign of very good winemaking when a young wine has already come together and presents its flavors harmoniously.”2

wine tasting

Tanya and Marek doing some very serious tasting.

Complexity was difficult for us to identify, which it seems is pretty normal for amateurs. Wine Enthusiast Magazine says, “Your ability to detect and appreciate complexity in wine will become a good gauge of your overall progress in learning how to taste wine.”3 I guess we have some work to do. The wine didn’t seem complex, especially at first (meaning there was more than one flavor, changing flavors as you keep tasting) but as we continued to taste, the flavors really did become more complex. It brings me to my second lesson from this tasting (the first being, pour smaller glasses): take your time. Really savor the flavors and the changes in flavor and you’ll start to appreciate the nuances of the flavors.

Here are some comments on the taste:

“Balanced, the mouthfeel is good.” -Tanya

“There is a slight acidity in the end. The sugar and bitterness work well together” -Alex

My first (or maybe second) comment on the wine was something about how you could taste it on the top of your mouth. By which I meant the back of my tongue. Tanya concluded: “The back of your tongue is where you taste bitter, that’s why you feel it there.” Which kind of threw me into a tizzy… of COURSE. The tongue chart! I looked it up and immediately found an article saying that tongue charts don’t work, but we decided they just need to be taken with a grain of salt… because you really COULD taste that slight bitterness on the back of your tongue and knowing those locations can help identify tastes. Breakthrough! Lesson three!

Elena wine tasting

The glass is almost as big as my head.

So then we decided to drink another bottle… because Tanya brought one and it would have been totally rude not to drink it. Also, we were on a wine kick at that point.

Bottle Two:

This was a Delas 2010 Côtes du Ventoux. We didn’t even know what this was, but apparently it is from Rhône. We were experts at this point and immediately did some color checking and swirling.

Bottle of Côtes du Ventoux

The second bottle: Côtes du Ventoux

Sight:

“This one has better legs, it drips slower. It’s a thicker wine.” Marek commented. At this point I’m totally confused about what legs mean, but this is helpful. It’s “thicker”.

Marek also pointed out that it is easier to swirl your glass when you keep it on a flat surface. I can now confirm this.

This one was a bolder red, which was more appealing to me.

Smell:

This wine smelled a little bit fruity, which is supposed to be one of the easiest scents to identify.

Taste:

We decided this wine was sweeter and more complex. It had fruitier notes and played interestingly on the palate and seemed to start sweet and end a little bit bitter. In fact, all four of us said something to that effect. Maybe we are already getting better at identifying complexity in wine. Could be!

In Conclusion:

This wine tasting was a break through. First of all, it was really fun discussing the wine. It made the experience of drinking it so much deeper and it was interesting when someone identified a feature of the wine and suddenly you could taste (or smell or see) that same thing. I’m feeling a little bad about all the wine I haven’t appreciated like this. But maybe that’s because we were drinking nice bottles. As Alex said, “This is why I drink beer, not wine. If I drank wine I’d end up only drinking expensive bottles.” Next week, we’re going to taste some less-expensive bottles. Sorry, Alex.

Alex tasting wine

Looking good?

1. Giglio, Anthony. “Liquids: Wine Terminology.” Boston Magazine. Boston Magazine, Mar. 2002. Web. 07 Oct. 2012. <http://www.bostonmagazine.com/articles/2006/04/boston-magazine-liquids-wine-terminology/&gt;.

2. “How To Taste Wine.” How To Taste Wine – Wine Tasting Tips from Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Wine Enthusiast Magazine, n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2012. <http://www.winemag.com/Wine-Enthusiast-Magazine/how-to-taste-wine/&gt;.

3. Ibid.

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2 Comments

Filed under Today's Tastings

2 responses to “My First [kind of] Serious Wine Tasting

  1. Susan Murry

    Very enjoyable Post. It is very, enjoyable to hear your comments. I can’t help feeling your friend Yancy isn’t present….. guiding you all to a better understanding of wine. I have it on my “to do list” to see if we can purchase the same wines. Nice entry Lani!

  2. Thank you so much! This blog has become very cathartic for me.

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